You don’t really own a dog, you live with one. You live with the wet noses, happy wags and unrestrained love. This brevity of our being is revisited courtesy celebrated poet Mary Oliver in the trailing lines.
In her emotionally eloquent poetry collection Dog Songs, Mary Oliver brings the sheer gentleness and genius of her craft all over again. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poet has paw prints hopping through the pages. What better way to show how simple life is if we let it be. What we own and what owns us.
… Thus, we sit, myself
thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
“A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you do not, therefore, own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them …
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing. . .”— Mary Oliver
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honour as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?
In ‘School’, Mary’s recitation on the impermanence of love and loss is as profound as it is simple:
You’re like a little wild thing
That was never sent to school.
Sit, I say, and you jump up.
Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand
To the nearest dead fish
With which you perfume your sweet neck.
It is summer.
How many summers does a little dog have?
Run, run Percy.
This is our school.
“And it is exceedingly short, his galloping life. Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old—or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.”―Mary Oliver, Dog Songs
Mary Oliver passed away in January 2019. She was a lifelong dog lover, whose poems almost always wandered into them. The most famous of them being the ones featuring ‘Percy’, a dog whom she rescued.